July 23, 2019 | 73° F

RUSA members new and old recap elections and what it's like to participate in student government

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Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) Vice President Christie Schweighardt stands aside RUSA President Evan Covello. The two served on this year’s e-board and will now step down due to yearly elections.

As the clock struck midnight, months of campaigning and planning came to a halt for four student tickets and Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) members — as the 2018 Spring Election began.

Voting officially opened at midnight on Monday and will be open until 11:45 p.m. on Tuesday. Rutgers students can vote for next year’s student-government leaders on RUSA's main site during the allotted time period. 

There are four tickets running, One Rutgers, uKnighted, Rutgers United and UnScrew RU, according to candidacy announcements from each party’s respective presidential candidate.

“I think also a big part of turnout is how energized the candidates themselves are,” said Viktor Krapivin, Elections Committee chair and a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “So it's all about candidates getting students to vote in the election. I honestly believe this election will be pretty close because we have four candidates running.”

Who are the candidates?

One Rutgers is led by presidential candidate Suzanne Link, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, alongside her running mate, vice-presidential candidate Jaidev Phadke, who is also a School of Arts and Sciences junior. Among many issues, One Rutgers plans to specifically address college affordability, according to its campaign website.

The ticket plans to do this by fighting for an increase in the maximum award for Pell Grant recipients, assuring food access to Rutgers students struggling with food insecurity, advocating for increased state funding and continuing to support the Employer Participation in Student Loan Repayment Act.

“Members of our team have authored legislation within RUSA supporting the Employer Participation in Student Loan Repayment Act,” according to the campaign site. “Our ticket is committed to advocating for this legislation, which eases the burden of student debt.”

UKnighted is led by presidential candidate Jessica Tuazon, a School of Engineering junior, and vice-presidential candidate Seth Wasserman, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. One of its many plans is to address inclusion on campus, according to its campaign website.

Within that includes extending more “Welcome Days” activities to non-traditional students, having access to free menstrual hygiene products in every bathroom at the University, working to maintain net neutrality on campus and creating a sexual violence education council.

“There are many groups and departmental organizations that work towards educating students on the issues surrounding sexual violence,” according to the campaign site. “With the creation of a Sexual Violence Education Council, we hope to collaborate and bring more effective and larger events to students in conjunction with our efforts to end sexual violence at Rutgers.”

Led by presidential candidate Vlad Carrasco, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, and vice-presidential candidate Jessica Resnick, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, Rutgers United plans to address issues of diversity on campus, according to its campaign website.

To make this a reality, the candidates plan on opening RUSA Executive Board meetings to the public, working with cultural groups to create a cultural-academic requirement at Rutgers, promoting inclusivity and creating a constituent assembly consisting of general members of the student body.

“We seek to have student leaders from all student organizations and representative councils,” according to its platform. “Our idea is that together we can truly represent the student body.”

Unscrew RU is headed by presidential candidate Adeel Ahmed, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, and vice-presidential candidate Nimra Jaqob. As a ticket, Unscrew RU plans on addressing many issues, including affordability, according to its campaign website.

Advocating for increased assistance from Pell Grants, creating a student-led mentoring program to encourage students to apply for scholarships, looking into the University’s unrestricted reserves and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers on campus, is how Unscrew RU plans to achieve its goals, according to the site.

“Governor Phil Murphy is a one of the biggest advocates for a $15 minimum wage, (sic)” according to the site. “We will work strongly as members of RUSA to lobby all New Jersey Representatives and Senators to support a $15 minimum wage bill.”

Before the candidates were in place and the voting was underway, Krapivin said the election process formally started at RUSA’s first meeting of the fall semester in January, when the assembly adopted its Elections Code.

What was the election process?

The code was adopted on Jan. 19, according to the RUSA Internal Affairs website. It marked a change for the assembly, as for the first time the election would have a permanent set of rules, Krapivin said.  

“So previously election rules were adopted on an ad hoc process for each election. Now, RUSA has a set of permanent rules that govern all elections in the future,” he said.

Following that the Elections Committee began its work of scheduling a timeline for the election under the code, as well as adopting several temporary and permanent regulations on the election process, he said.

Candidates had until March 9 at 11:59 p.m. to fill out a “Declaration of Intent” to run in the 2018 Spring Election, according to the RUSA Facebook page. The rules require that a ticket only have three people on it to run, Krapivin said. Once three people sign up to run with the same name and under the same ticket leadership, that ticket becomes eligible. Candidates also have the option to run as independents.

He said that there are some requirements to run, primarily affecting presidential and vice-presidential candidates. In the RUSA Constitution, the president is required to have one year of experience on the assembly, and following adoption of the Elections Code, so does the vice president.

Krapivin explained that a presidential candidate does not have to have served in the previous year and that presidential and vice-presidential candidates have to run as running mates. Other general requirements include being a Rutgers undergraduate student with a cumulative grade point average above 2.5.

During the campaign process, financing and endorsements are two factors that play into the race. Krapivin said that although RUSA adopted expenditure caps in its Elections Code, the caps were ruled unenforceable by the RUSA parliamentarian. RUSA does have ways it mitigates the potential impact of money on the campaign trail.

RUSA only allows Rutgers students to contribute to a candidate’s campaign, and a student is not allowed to contribute more than $50 per candidate, Krapivin said. There is also a $50 exemption provided in cases where a student receives a discount, which they would have to include in their exemption.

“Other than that, you have to give fair market value to any services you receive, and anything below that fair market value counts as a contribution toward your campaign,” Krapivin said.

Student organizations can also get involved with the election by endorsing candidates. He said this serves as a public endorsement, but also helps bring more students out to vote.

Krapivin said organizations that endorse a ticket can enter a prize pool, separated by the size of the specific organization. The organization in each size category that gets the most people to vote will win a $250 prize. RUSA calculates this by including questions on the ballot asking how students found out about the election and who encouraged them to vote.

Come 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, the votes will be counted electronically, and the winner will be decided through a plurality system, he said. That means that the candidate with the most number of votes wins, even if each candidate gets one-fourth and one candidate gets one-fourth plus one — that candidate will win.  

Krapivin said that barring technical difficulties, the preliminary results should be released by Wednesday or Thursday.

“I really believe that we should release preliminary results as soon as possible so people have a chance to, I guess, process the results, because in my opinion it’s a very emotional experience for some people,” he said. “I know when I ran as a candidate it was exhausting.”

Before the current RUSA Executive Board gives way to the next, members still have some meetings and activities left, such as State of the Assembly Address, Krapivin said. This gives time to reflect on the past year.

What is being a RUSA member like?

Current RUSA President Evan Covello, Vice President Christie Schweighardt and Secretary Jessica Tuazon discussed their experiences, hardships, successes and what it takes to be a leader in student government.

Covello, an Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy senior, said RUSA is a fairly new student government, as it began only 11 years ago. The assembly was formed in 2007 when the University restructured. Since then, it has grown to become a real part of student leadership and representation, he said.

“I would say the thing I am most proud of is the legitimacy we’ve built as advocates for students,” Covello said.

Covello has been on the executive board for almost three years now. He has served as a committee chair, vice president and now president. 

“It’s taught me a lot of things. It’s given me a lot of opportunities to work on a lot of projects that affect the everyday lives of students,” he said.

Covello said his position is time-consuming and demanding in nature, but the work he does is rewarding, which makes it all worth it. He said that if he was not graduating this year he would do it again. 

Using the money left in the budget in ways that will directly help students is one thing he still wants to accomplish before graduation, he said. This has already been set in motion through partnering with the Rutgers Student Food Pantry to address food insecurity, and setting up a program to make menstrual hygiene products free on campus. 

Schweighardt, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the assembly wants to wrap up this year of mental-health awareness by having focus groups with students of all different backgrounds and getting them all in the same room to discuss mental health. 

She said it is horrible when students tell her about issues that are affecting their experiences at the University, which she cannot fix in just the span of one year. Some of the work is easy to get done through Rutgers, while other issues are not as easily fixed.

“The one thing to be hopeful about is that you can set up programs that will last for a while,” she said.

Schweighardt said that, although it can be stressful, she would stay on the executive board again because of that time issue. She would want to stay to ensure things are still getting done and see the completion of her projects. 

Connecting with all different kinds of students, being able to spread a message she is passionate about and getting students engaged in the conversation are some of what she enjoys the most about the position, Schweighardt said.

“That’s what makes it easy, because we do have a lot of engaged students here at Rutgers, so it’s been really cool,” she said. 

Tuazon said similarly that being on the executive board can be a stressful experience. There are many layers of rules and requirements — a lot of which are charged to the secretary — but all the time she has put into her position has been worth it to be able to make a difference. 

“I’ve always said that there’s a difference between wanting to make a difference and being able to, and being on the e-board has definitely given me the ability,” Tuazon said. 

Like Schweighardt and Covello, Tuazon said that being a RUSA executive-board member is a big responsibility, but the work done in the assembly is fulfilling and rewarding.

“It’s daunting, but it’s so fulfilling to feel like I can be depended on to get the job done and see it through,” Tuazon said.

Tuazon, Schweighardt and Covello all said passion and dedication are essential to their roles.

Because of all the responsibilities that come with the job, having a passion for student government is a quality that anyone looking to be a part of RUSA should have, they said. 

“You have to be passionate about the issues that students face on campus, you have to be willing to put in the time,” Covello said. “Because if you do it right, it should be a hard job, but it should be a job that you enjoy.” 

Ryan Stiesi

Hannah McClain

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